Pros and Cons

Having worked in an office environment for almost a year, I have come to fully appreciate how much better your quality of life can be working in different environments each day.  Not just stuck indoors, at a desk, looking at a screen most of the day.  Being around  different people and having the freedom to choose how you approach your daily life does have its advantages.

I guess I am in a better position now to reflect upon these things, I guess strangely what’s best about this is that having the experience gives you the chance to put  things into a perspective that others don’t have; helps you see things in another light.

I spent almost 3 years teaching English in China full or part time and it was one of the most interesting and rewarding things I’ve ever done. At times it was tough, frustrating and difficult, but overall I still beleive it’s a positive thing to do if you ever get the chance.

Saying this,  teaching is an incredibly tiring thing to do. It is not like a desk-job – you have to constantly be on the ball and the amount of speaking/exertion of energy is quite high, which can really drain you.

I would say that it is more tiring than the 7am-7pm day I  have at the moment, even with all the commuting.

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The final problem continued

It’s  4.39am, can’t sleep .
So I’ve been back to the government offices  4  times now,  each with pretty much with very limited success.  I’ve given them two letters stating the facts, and stating my position regarding the contract as requested, but so far nothing else has happened.

It’s a very slow process, and you have to keep on going every day, keep on pushing them to do their job, keep on pushing them to try to help your situation.

It’s quite frustrating as they are obviously stalling and puting things off in the hope that I just give up and move on.  If you actually calculate the amount of time I have dedicated to persuing this then I probably could have made the money owed by now, I am asking myself is it really worth persuing this any further?
Yesterday I went to the offices, I had arranged to meet the man there at 1.30, but when I arrive he says that he has no time today and that he will be in a meeting for the rest of the day.  I say that we had a time arranged, and he says why didn’t I come at 8am to do this?

This is the thing, In my experience trying to catch people at the ‘right’ time is often the hardest thing to do.  Governement workers it seems have lunch from 10.30/11-1.30-2ish then go home at 4.    It’s so difficult as I don’t want to sound weak and capitulate to his ‘busy’ schedule but I also don’t want to annoy him so as he won’t help me with anything!

This time, I’ve brought some Chinese friends with me so they can help with language problems and co-oberate anything said by him.  When dealing with problems like this I try not to get anybody else directly involved because it usually complicates things further and annoys the people whom I bring to help me.  If I am just there myself they are more direct and simple, we get to the point (if only because my language skills are not up to complex nuances).  If you take others, they ask all sorts of  irrelevant questions like ‘why are you helping this person’ ‘what’s your relationship with this person’ ‘why did you come here’ etc etc etc…
So he then walks out of his office, closes the door and past us, so we follow him – my chinese friends asking him can’t we do this now, it’s important, we dont have so much time you know!

He gets agitated at this and replies saying that he has a very good relationship with Jilin University and he doesn’t want to damage this!

I didn’t believe he’d actually tell us this, I didn’t expect a truthful response – at least he’s trying to being honest . So he wont do his job because it will harm his relationship with the uni, and he doesn’t want to lose guanxi.  Then I guess the only way is to go to his boss, and his boss and so on, until I can find somebody that can help!

He also said some irrelevant stuff about the fact that Jilin University gave me a letter of release and that I should not be complaining, what cheek!  I thought he was supposed to be impartial!!!haha

I think that If I keep on going back, day after day, pressuring them, maybe this would eventually get somewhere.  I believe It’s a question of putting the right amount of pressure and getting to the message to the right people, but unfortunately, time is not something I have much of in Changchun and I don’t want to spend my last days here fighting.
Maybe those people that initially give up fighting for the money are right, basically it boils down to the clear point that it really isn’t worth your time and effort  persuing this.  I feel consolled for at least trying to do things legally, there are other methods but as I said before I simply don’t have the time to pesue this further.

So I have given my information to a Chinese lawyer that I found online, he will persue this on my behalf, and maybe just maybe will get something out of it.  Im not so concerned about the  money involved (11k to be exact) it’s the principle and the attitude of jida that annoys me most.

For anybody who wants to do this, the offices you need to go to are on the second floor of the building on the south eastern side of the junction on renmin dajie and shanghai lu.  It’s an old building dating from the Japanese time, the room number for the office is 240, but the room I’ve been going to is 227.

人民大街和上海路交汇  renmin dajie he shanghai lu jiaohui or just go to the 省政府 sheng zhengfu


I’ve finished giving mock job interviews to all of my students as part of their final exam, took two weeks, 202 in total! It’s been a good opportunity for them to get some experience as they really don’t know much about these things and also It gives me some useful knowledge, being the other side of the table for once. 🙂

I gave them the choice to choose their dream job, they had to arrange a time with me, sort it out themselves, those that didn’t do this will inevitably get a poor mark. Of all those interviewed, I would say that less than 10% would have actually got the job. I wasn’t being particuarly strict, it’s just most of them were pretty clueless and unable to sell themselves without jumping back to a memorised self introduction, that I explicity said was not allowed!

I’m teaching students in their 3rd year (out or 7) all of whom are studying to be doctors or dentists. Even though they are only about 2/3 years younger than me, they are very much still kids in many ways, quite immature, especially the boys who are more like 16 year olds. Don’t get me wrong, the students here are very hardworking, but they are compelled to do this, how much they actually learn is debatable. Sunday is their only day off, from 8-5 Monday to Friday they’re busy, Saturday is for practical experiments.Then there is my class which is in the evening.

So in all, over 40 hours a week of classroom time, not to mention homework! 🙁

I’ve taught at many different universities and my general observation is that the single biggest difference between the students here and at other universities is their provenance, not their ability.I would say totally, 85-90% of my students are from Changchun, most (if not all) have parents and or family relation that is a doctor or in the medical profession. Which will of course, in the future enable them to get a medical job upon graduation! Is this the same in the UK? Yes i’m sure it is but not quite to the same extent that it is in China.

Something I’ve noticed over the last year of teaching at this univerisity, is that students from smaller cities or towns, outside of the province almost always are better students. They are faster, more interested and much more likely to question things. One of my favourite techniques in the classroom to encourage debate, is to deliberately say a statement that will try to provoke a reaction; i.e something they disagree with – If only to get them to express their own opinions on things.

They are the few students that have the ability to critically analyse something, to use independent thought not just to blindly follow what other people think. I think this is partly due to their upbringing -because they have to have been very astute, motivated and diligent to have been able to have got this far – afterall the university entrace system blantently descrimates against those who don’t have access to the best high schools and thus the coaching for the crucial entrance exam.

However, more often than not in China, if you’re unfortunate to be born into poverty there basically is no chance whatsoever. Here you could be the next Motzart or Einstein but if you’re born into a poor family in the countryside you will probably never have the opportunity to show your talents. In this sense, It’s a nation of unfairness, a nation of real extremes, haves a have nots.

I think the big difference is that, for all its faults, in the west there you still have a chance, allbeit slim. Whether this is due to the education system, system of government, or the simple fact that the gap between rich and poor is not as big, I’m not so sure. 😕

Fortunately there are exceptions, take one of my students from a very small town in southern China, his dream to be a doctor. Or the Chinese korean students that are very, very quick. They have the added advantage of being trilingual – when you’ve already mastered two languages a third one is so much easier to grasp. The girl from a very remote part of northern China, bordering Russia, who brought up on a farm with no access to education as we know it – family used all of their savings (and borrow) to pay for her to go to high school and have a chance at getting into university.

On the other hand, the advantages to this system are that it preserves the status quo, keeps those rich people rich while allowing those who are not so poor a very limited shot. Which is what I think the system is trying to achieve i.e perpetuating the class system.

It’s sometimes easy being a foreigner looking at things in China, from my comfortable postion things may seem interesting or curious where in reality they are tough and not really very nice. I just wonder what I would be like if I was Chinese, born into such an environment, where the best and brightest or the richest and most lucky want to go abroad and most likely not return permananty.

Dealing with the boss.

Waiban 外办 Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO)
The waibans (Foreign Affairs Officer) I’ve experiened range from bloodyminded crooks to incompetent halfwits – Out of the 5 I’ve dealt with 2 were incompetent, 2 serial liars and only 1 I would consider a straight person.

My current waiban would squarly go into the second category. Waibans are quite powerful people and have a lot of authority, therefore they delegate their real work to others, usually a over-eager student looking for a foot on the university career ladder. However, this person is given no authority to do anything of any consequence, therefore cannot act without first asking the waiban for permission. You would think this defeats the purpose of having subordinates to do your paperwork but there is a very good reason for it.

Ultimately everything that is done by the waibans dept (at jida this is ironically titled the dept of international co-operation… haha) comes back to the boss. If there is a problem he or she will take the flack for it. This is what they told me anyway, but I’m not convinced.

I think a bigger reason is that by delegating to somebody else, they may do a better job than the boss and so could ultimatly threaten their position. By keeping everyone under them, the boss exterts a lot of control and keeps his/her own positon secure.

Often therefore, if the boss isn’t around nothing of any consequence can get done! A great example of this is when I needed to get my visa extended, a quite straight-forward process for them you would think. However the boss has been on ‘business‘ in Taiwan for the last month and so I had to wait until she got back!

The impression I get is that people in positions of power and influence are terrified of losing their status, and will go to lengths that are detriment of others to protect themselves. Based on recent history they have good reason to be so, it wasn’t long ago things were so different here.

So, trying to get what you want from the waiban is often very difficult if it involves them actually doing their job, doubly so if it invlves money owed to you. The waiban’s primary function, in my eyes, is to skim as much of the foreign teachers salary as possible into their own pockets, and to perhaps help out the foreign techers if they feel inclined to do so!

The FAO is no fool and knows the inner workings of the system much better than you and so uses this position to achieve a degree of inequality of bargaining power , in induces duress to get what he/she wants. The law will not help you, contractual issues are simply not so important.

The waibans favourite tactic is to agree with you and say ‘ok, we’ll sort it out’ so you leave happy thinking things are resolved. Wrong. 😡 Come the next week nothing has been done – it’s the oldest trick in the book the ‘tell you what you want to hear’ line.

I have learnt a few ways to deal with this, firstly:

Complain, complain, complain. Call them all the time, keep hasseling them in the end they will capitulate, as they simply want you to go away so they can get on with playing QQ games and downloading that lastest Korean soap.

If you dont have the time or patients to do this tape record and or ask him/her to write down what has been promised. If they have nothing to hide they will have no problem in doing this. Actually, this is my favourite technique, I like to throw it in during a meeting as an off-the-cuff comment ‘so you’d have no problem in signing this, right?’ 😀

Don’t threaten them with ‘but in my country bla bla bla‘ that’s meaningless here and just shows how little you understand about this place. I also would never directly threaten somebody directly face to face – do not get angry or shout – act forcefully but don’t lose your temper for that is a big faux pas. I prefer more sinister and subtle tactics, like anonymous letters and picking up on something that is of value to the waiban.

In my instance, the reputation of the school, they were at pains to tell me how great this university is, how great the students are , how we’ve spent billions yuan on this, that and the other… Actually, I don’t really care. Honestly speaking, there isn’t a great divide (reputations aside -the name of the school means everything) between the levels of schools. I’m more interested in the things that impact on me – like accommodation, where/when I work, salary and will you actually pay me!

And so i made a veiled reference that it would be a shame for people to hear bad stories about teachers at Jida, that you don’t pay your teachers….They’re still sorting things out, but they owe all the teachers their vacation pay – I’m talking more than 10K per teacher… I’ll write in depth about it if they dont pay up…..

They will speak big words, promise so much, and fool many -afterall they’ve been doing this for years – the crunch is in what they do, not what they say.
Someone said to me that you seem to keep stepping into holes, I answer this by saying it comes with the territory. It’s the way it is in this job, especially so in provincial Changchun. it’s not a question of falling into holes but a question of there being holes everywhere. You have to deal with it and in a way, it’s like a game.

Direct action should be used sparingly, and is a last resort – I have used this once in relation to my apartment. I simply said I won’t teach until you sort this out as it is very serious. This worked and within 24 hours I had a new place, but this should be used carefully, you must have other alternatives first.

I think I suffer more than most as people don’t take me seriously, because of a combination of my age my appearance. They think he looks friendly, young and inexperienced, so we can mess with him. He won’t understand, he probably won’t care, he’s fair game. I still get this despite people knowing I’ve been here a while and I know how things are, Maybe If I could grow a beard and shave my head then people would be afriad of me?

It’s annoying when people judge you like this, but we all judge people by the way they look to an extent, its a fact of life.


One of the biggest advantages of working in education over other areas is the working schedule. Today marks the beginning of the end of my time teaching here and I know I shall miss the holidays, and not having to be in one place from 8-5. In previous times I have kept myself extremely busy, doing many types of work all over the city, on top of my regular contract.

 This has allowed me to experience much, much more than if I was stranded behind a desk all day, but it also is quite a lone-wolf profession in that I work by myself and seldom have opportunities to network on the job. For the next few weeks- and for the first time in a long time -I am only doing my regular job, Monday to Friday. My schedule is perfect for me to be able to study full time without it interrupting with my other activities. I currently only work in the evenings, therefore I can comfortably study in the morning and do things I want to do in the afternoon. Furthermore, I only live 2 minutes from where I work! actually its 1 minute 40 seconds from door to door, beat that for a commute!)    

In a vein hope to shake off my bad stomach (still feeling the milk 🙁 ), this afternoon I donned my shades (more to stop the dust than the sun) , picked up my camera and umbrella and spent the afternoon exploring. The weather today has been a little wet and windy -very much like the UK in April- most people here don’t like this kind of weather but I think its good to have rain once in a while, as it really does a good job of clearing the air.  Since I live in the centre of town (and I am easily amused) there is much to see.

There’s something about doing things on your own, be it at the market, the post-office, on the bus or any public place really, whereby other people are much more inclined to start up conversations with you.  I’m still trying to work out why this is, perhaps it is that most foreigners do things with others (friends, translators etc), though sometimes I get the vibe that people think that because I am doing something alone (and in a foreign country)  it means that I have no friends and need to be talked to!! :). 

When you are by yourself you are much more likely to be approached and get into converations with people – It has to be the best way of improving your conversational Chinese by far.  

 I’ve lost count the amount of times people have tried to help me,  wishing to offer assistance for something or other.  Sure, there are idiots (as there are in any country) that make stupid ‘haaallloooos‘ and those that swear and say bad things behind your back, but this is a tiny proportion and thses type of people can be avoided if you keep aware of your surroundings.

  A good example is the very old lady who stood behind me whilst I was taking a photo of a building being demolished.  She must have been about 4 foot tall and in her 80s, wearing a blue mao-style suit buttoned to the top.  She was looking at me very curiously and then rather surprisingly asked me what I was taking a picture of?  I told her that this was a good example of old and new contrasts and that in my country I can’t see this.  She seemingly understood and said the usual superlatives about my Chinese (this is nothing to do with my Chinese, which is no more than average for someone that has lived here for 2.5 years, it’s just that most Chinese here believe that for a foreigner to speak their language, however bad, is amazing – even more so for those that have never spoken to a foreigner before as I think this lady was.)

Whilst walking down a small hutong I decided that I visit the one of the hundreds of small  markets that are dotted all over Changchun and would try a bit of bargaining -since I haven’t done this for a while. Of course, as any foreigner that has travelled here knows, at times it is frustrating, but also I believe, rewarding.  When you’re Just trying to buy something, often a crowd of people stand around watching the you bargain, knowing full well that they are seeing what kind of price the laowai can get so they can try and come back later and get a cheaper deal! 😀    

Often if this happens I won’t buy the goods because the shopkeeper won’t lower the price to the amount I wish to pay (even tough he/she could) as lots of people are watching and giving away a decent bargained price is a little bit like giving away a state secret. 

I used to find bargaining incredibly annoying and chaotic, the ‘Why can’t he just tell me the price and I pay’ attitude.  For me now, there is no doubt in my mind that bargaining is a huge skill, something that can be used in other areas of life, yet it’s something that we don’t really have to think about in the west.

 Bargaining is like a vein that runs through the very fabric of Chinese society, someone once told me that, ‘in China everything is negotiable’ and that is probably true.


Been ultra busy of late not had much time to think.  The weather is still very mild, it broke freezing today.  They say the North Pole is going to totally melt by 2040,  I can believe it.   

As part of my job,  I am obliged to give a final mark to all of my students. Anything over 60 is considered a pass, however all of their marks over all of their subjects are averaged to come up with a final score. If they fail they ‘cannot’ continue to the next year and will be required to take a ‘make-up’ exam to compensate for this.   Actually, I refuse to fail any of my students.  The lowest mark I give is 61.  The reason for this is that if I do fail them, they will simply take the make-up exam and pass anyway.    The make-up usually  consists only of giving the the dean of the school a brown envelope in exchange for a pass. 

 Perhaps one of the most important things for the students are the scholarships that are available. From what I understand, all public universities have a government scholarship available to the students just for passing all of their subjects. It’s something tiny like 60yuan a semester, but better than a poke in the eye. The universites also offer a scholarship based on the scores, though they may differ depending on the institution. where I am now, if a student scores over 90 in all areas they will get something like 1000yuan for the year.

At a previous university  I gave all the students written and oral exams as well as taking into account their general attendance. I gave the department the information at the end of the semester, satisifed I had done everything as equitably as possible. Come the next semester I had perhaps 20 students complaining about their marks; they either had a very low mark or not one at all!

So I went back to the dept, got the copies of the mark sheets from the office only to find that they had been changed. Not only just edited, but these were not the sheets I had handed in previously!  I scanned down to the bottom to see that my name had been forged, somone had written DAVID in large child-like handwriting as if to indicate my signature!

Anyway these poor students eventually got a mark and everything was ok. But I was annoyed as it questioned my competance and made me look like an fool.  The students seemed relativly unperturbed by this, suggesting to me that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to them.  Looking back I’m sure it wasn’t!

The Chinese academic institutions aren’t great at accountability, so when you get into a problem it’s often difficult (if not impossible) to get a straight answer from anyone. Nobody wants to know.  It’s not their problem.  I’ve heard tales of students not being able to graduate just because their exam scripts were ‘lost’  by the university.  Or the student that told me her grade was 100% wrong –  she had been given the wrong mark  by her teacher and was unable to change it as the university was unwilling (or more likely unable) to get the original script. 

No re-take. No second chance.

Here extreme strict liability applies, the burden falls on the student. 



 So it was my birthday on Monday. Didn’t do anything special, spent most of the morning sleeping as It was the first day in over two months that I haven’t had to get up at some ghastly hour in the morning. 

  Did receieve a very nice cake from the department and a free meal – a very nice touch and somthing that I didn’t expect. 🙂    When I went downstairs they actually knew it was my birthday and congratulated me, I was taken aback.  I would never have expected this, not in China.  

Organisation is hardly a stong point of Chinese universities – At a previous school the administration didn’t even know my name – even after working there for a year!  I assumed it was the same everywhere, how wrong I was.    

The class I had that evening pleasantly surprised me by singing a rendition of ‘生日快乐’’Happy Birthday’  when I entered the classroom.  Which made my day!! 🙂      

Moving on –  I haven’t been able to post on-line for a while due to the university internet connection firewalling this site, so I’m currently writing from my local internet bar.  It’s really frustrating but I’m told that it’s because the uni doesn’t like people looking at external sites as they pay money for the amount of bandwidth they use outside Chinese IP addresses.  It’s nothing to do with the government clamping down,  it’s simply a cost-saving exercise!   Fortunatly the students have set up a system whereby they publish daily lists of available proxies on the internal BBS system.  When the uni finds these they block them, then some new proxies are published and then blocked and so on and so forth…. 


No time.

So I’m going to quit one of my part-time jobs.  I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks and now I reaslise that I need to have some free time in my life. At present 6 days a week I leave home by 7 and get home after 8 and It isn’t worth it.   

My mind was decided last week when my boss thought it funny to pay me 200元 less than I was meant to get.  Now 200元 may not be that much – when I first came to China I would have let it go – but not now. If he is going to mess with me then I’ll repay him with the same courtesy.  

 I get paid by the hour so he knows exactly how many classes I did,  yet when I told him he said I was mistaken, he simply didn’t listen to anything I had to say.  It’s strange because I have had a good working relationship with him previously, I have never had any complaints. Why would he try this on?  

 I told him in as many ways possible that he still owed my the 200, then I told him in Chinese,  I asked him to him to ask the students whether I was there or not.  He still continued to disagree with me.  I think he must have really been short of cash or something (by skimming the 200yuan) because he knows that if I quit on him he is in a difficult situation.  He also knows that there are lots of other places I could work and that I don’t have to work for him.

 I will tell my boss after I get paid this week that my price has gone up.  So If he wishes to retain my services he must pay me more as my time has now become more valuable.  If he doesn’t agree (and this is what I really want) I will endeavour to find him a replacement teacher but I can’t guarantee anything.   He knows how difficult it will be to get a replacement at this time during the term, especially as his classes are during the week and most teachers in Changchun work during the week.  But this will be his problem not mine. 

By forcing his hand I will either get a raise or I will have some free time to do the things I want to do. Either way I can’t lose. 

Ultimately though it’s the students that will suffer.  It’s very sad but that’s how it is.  The administration at this university desn’t care abut the welfare of its students.  I do care,  but I can’t let that feeling put me in a disadvantageous position especially when it comes to salary.   If I say that ‘I can’t quit because I owe it to the students’  then I cut my own throat as effectively it means I can’t quit.  It’s tough but that’s just the way it is here.


weather forecastThe weather’s been pretty much perfect of late, warm but not humid during the daytime and pleasantly cool at night.   

Today I had my first class since June . Throughout the summer I have had various other projects going on, it’s been an interesting time and lots of things are still developing from this.   

The problem is that now that the semester has started,  I am almost overwhelmed with the amount of work I have to do. For the next few months,  I’m not sure if I will be able to do it all. Technically it all fits in nicely, my schedule looks good, but realistically it might not be physically possible – only time will tell. 16 weeks to go!

端午节 Dragon Boat Festival

Been having problems with the old spam bots, and so this wasn’t posted when it was meant to.

So today is the Dragon Boat festival 端午节 (duan1 wu3 jie2) and it is marked by the eating of 粽子 (zong4 zi3) polished glutinous rice or better described as sticky triangular things that take forever to swallow. This festival essentailly celebrates the death of Qu Yuan, who committed suicide by drowning himself in a river.  Anyway, apart from the zong zi eating, most students that I know, woke up before dawn and climbed a nearby hill to watch the sunrise. So not to miss out, my first class was spent climbing that hill, which I’m told has a bomb shelter built under it as an expansion to the natural cave complexes allready there. 

As we walked along the busy road, stopping and covering our eyes from the dust every time a vehicle came past, I chatted with the students.  walking along the roadThe walk took us along this busy road, over a rather nice river,  and past thousands of discarded plastic bags and packaging that are sadly all too abundant throughout China.  It makes me annoyed that things are like this, the fact that nobody seems to give a monkeys.river  It seems the welfare of the environment is an alien thought to many, and the government appears to be obsessed with economic growth at all costs

The hill itself was very sandy in colour, almost like a beach and kind of reminded me of a quarry. The trees were yet to drop their cones and the grass was patchy, punctuated with lumps of red coloured sandstone.    the hill

Atop of the hill was a large pagoda like building and a Buddist temple or maybe a monistary, i’m not sure.   The walls were covered in graffitti  – something very unusual in these parts –  and the kind of graffitti you’d rubbishexpect back home: ‘He loves …’  ‘Call 13….. for’ etc…  In Changchun graffitti consists of peoples telephone numbers, as well as spraying a number there will also be a job – like plumber or plasterer or locksmith.  It’s like an advert for the unemployed wishing to get work. 


Here’s the rest of the photos for those that asked:

ditch  hill walking  trees  

 temple thing  temple front  dangerous steps 

class photo    zhong zi - sticky rice things, inside a leaf - tastes not good   more trees 

 on the way back